Four Gospels, One Jesus?
Richard A. Burridge
SPCK (Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge)
Another level, to help you get closer to the real person
How do you read the Bible? I think it can be read in a number of ways, too often we read it just as a reference book, which is not the way it was intended of course. When we study the Bible, we look at all the information we can get to find the context for the stories we're reading about. We try to understand what life was like in Jesus lifetime, we look at who wrote the gospels and when. All this is to help us to get a better understanding of the one Jesus that we a so concerned about learning about and from.
Jesus was a real person, so what was he like? There are some things that we can get from the texts we read. Even a superficial reading will give the impression that Jesus was clearly a charismatic teacher, ans someone who is not afraid of confrontation. I should add that he was also a Jew, with some amazing gifts, who made some astonishing claims. Quite quickly we arrive at the “God, mad or bad?” question, which tells us that Jesus is someone who is difficult to ignore.
To find out more we read the Gospels more carefully and try to understand who the author was, who he was writing for, and where he got his material. That gets us a little closer, but from the texts we still struggle with some of the apparent contradictions. Why are there four accounts? Are they just accounts from different reporters? Can we assume that these 'eye-witness accounts' suffer from the same problems as modern eye-witness accounts? Does that account for the differences? Did it all really happen?
If you're still with me, then you should read Four Gospels – One Jesus. The approach here is to try not only to understand some of the answers to the questions above, but also to understand how early Christian writers and their contemporaries wrote biographies. The approach they use is not the same as 20th Century writers. Each Gospel is examined for its main theme using characterizations from the early church as a base. For example, in Mark, Jesus is a Lion; In John an Eagle. The use of these images is carefully explained, and can be a helpful way of remembering the main themes. For those who are familiar with Lord of the rings, Tolkein is referenced often, sometimes this is a strain, as in the description of the eagles who rescue Frodo and Sam from the mountain. In John, Jesus the Eagle is not under the command of anyone, but G... is clearly being directed by Gandalf, so the analogy breaks down too early.
Overall, this is a helpful book if you are really trying to get closer to the character of Jesus. It generally has an easy style, and is thought provoking, without getting too technical. If, like me, you finish the chapter on John, and ask “How are we ever going to get back to one Jesus now?”, then just read on.
Here are some links that might help: